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Johnny Cueto dominates, bullpen barely holds on, Giants beat the Dodgers

The Giants snapped their losing streak behind Johnny Cueto, who threw as well as we've seen him throw in a Giants uniform.

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The bullpen was a defibrillator shoved up your nose, but forget about that for a second. The Giants beat the Dodgers on Saturday night, and they did it because Johnny Cueto pitched better than the other guy. Focus on that first, and everything makes a lot more sense.

Confession: On November 1, I would have preferred Scott Kazmir to Cueto. Same goes for December 1. It probably goes all the way until April 1, if I'm being honest with myself. Cueto had the upside, but Kazmir was the boring answer spit out of the cost-benefit analysis performed in the bowels of my brain. If Cueto stunk, the Giants were hosed for years. If Kazmir stunk, they could shake it off. Both of them had a chance to be good. Only one of them had a previous history of being unassailably outstanding, but I kept looking at the worst-case scenarios.

There are approximately 400 games left in the baseball season, so let's not jump to conclusions just yet. But as of now, April 16, yeah, I'm pretty darned satisfied with the Giants' decision to hack for the fences and sign Cueto.

Cueto showed off his best velocity as a Giant, which, by extension, meant that he showed off that oh-so-tantalizing upside that we were promised. Our first glimpses of him suggested we should expect a smoke-and-mirrors trickster, a low-90s guy at best. He would play games of three-windup monte, but he wouldn't overpower anyone. And in his third start, he started overpowering Dodgers. He'll never be Aroldis Chapman, stretched out for nine innings, don't get me wrong. But the impeccably located 94- and 95-mph fastballs came with predictable consequences for Dodgers hitters. The fraction of a second they didn't have to work with made a difference.

Take this two-strike pitch to Corey Seager:

It was 95 mph, right between the legs of Buster Posey. For perspective, Clayton Kershaw hasn't thrown a pitch that hard all season. It's the hardest we've seen Cueto throw. It's the hardest we've seen any Giants starting pitcher throw for years, the other new guy excepted. And it came from the guy from whom we were resigned to expecting subterfuge and nothing else.

I don't know, maybe you were waiting for the 95 mph to show up. I commend you and your unshakeable faith. Me? I wasn't expecting 95 to show up again. I wasn't expecting it on a two-strike count, on the corner, in a tight spot, to a hitter with power.

He has more tricks. HE HAS MORE TRICKS. And those tricks involve 95 mph on the outside, which is one of the oldest tricks of all.

Also, he's amusing! Lots of japes, this one. When Justin Turner was doing the hitter equivalent of a shimmy-shake -- standing at the plate and pretending not to give a rip, or something -- Cueto had even more tricks. I mean, what in the absolute h

It should be noted that Turner also hit the ball the hardest against Cueto. He didn't really care about the twists and gyrations and such. So maybe what's amusing for us isn't exactly effective.

Regardless, Cueto threw his best game as a Giant. He did it in Dodger Stadium in the middle of a frustrating losing streak. This is, possibly, a good way to endear himself to Giants fans everywhere.

* * *

There's a way to write this entire recap without mentioning a Brandon. Cueto was great! The bullpen was sketchy! And that was the entire story of how the Giants beat the Dodgers on April 16.

There were Brandons, though. Crawford gave the Giants their second run with an opposite-field double. Belt gave them their third run with an opposite-field single. They needed those runs, apparently.

I'm not about to dig through the 2011 archives on a Saturday night to see if either of them had an opposite-field approach when they arrived in the majors, but I'm guessing they didn't have much of one. And now they're popping balls over the infield and outfield against hard-throwing left-handers. They helped the Giants win, and they did it in a completely unremarkable, expected way. How did we get here?

Don't care. We're here, and it's super. And just for good measure, we had the Gold Glover getting saved by the Gold Glove-runner up.

They can hit, they can field, they are Brandons, they are legion.

* * *


Okay, it wasn't that dramatic, but it wasn't not that dramatic. Cueto was allowed to hit for himself in the eighth inning even though he was already over 100 pitches, but that's because he was apparently his own ROOGY in the bottom of the eighth. Oookay, not what I would have done, but all of my rings come from a claw machine just like Adrian Gonzalez, so whatever, maybe I'm wrong. Cueto got the out. Bochy was vindicated. Then he did exactly what he we would have done: bring Javier Lopez to face the left-handed Chase Utley.

When Dave Roberts sent up A.J. Ellis instead, that was fine. I don't mind Lopez against Ellis with a three-run lead. It beats putting Ellis on for free with an intentional walk. That seems like a fine way to get yourself into a pickle.

So Lopez got himself into a pickle. You might be fuming over the homer Lopez allowed to Corey Seager. No, that was a good hitter beating a boring pitch, but it wasn't the cardinal sin of the inning. The sin was Lopez walking A.J. Ellis -- literally a 35-year-old catcher who is good for about five home runs every year -- with a three-run lead. I get that Lopez is supposed to face lefties only, but I would have been so, so much more satisfied with Ellis and Seager combining for 900 feet of home run than Ellis walking and Seager homering.

And so it was in the year of Bonds, 2016, that we began to doubt Javier Lopez's preternatural ability to make left-handed hitters look like ding-dongs. If we hung with Sergio Romo until after the All-Star break last year, I don't see why we should feel hopeless with Lopez right now. It's early. Relievers are always dancing in the moonlight of a ridiculously small sample size.

I'm worried, though. Won't you be worried with me?

Hunter Strickland came in after Lopez and allowed the first of two DON'T-THROW-IT-THERE deep fly balls to left field. The Giants won the game, so I wouldn't take those outs back for anything, but goodness, were they lousy pitches that were a millimeter away from ruining a perfectly nice Saturday night.

Santiago Casilla allowed the second of the DTIT fly balls to deep left. Here's an 0-2 pitch to Yasiel Puig, who represents the winning run!



A fraction of an inch to Casilla's left, and the Dodgers have a game they'll remember for years. Casilla is one of the best Giants relievers in history. Use whatever stat you want, but he's one of the best relievers in team history. And yet, he's not going to be the closer in 2030, or 2020, so you have to wonder when his last season as the Giants' closer will be.

We're a handful of appearances into the 2016 season, and the over/under is definitely erring toward sooner rather than later. If he was a cardiac closer last year, look out. It's probably not going to get better.

(Even though he did get out of a runner-on-third, one-out situation like a badass, which he kind of is.)